The Epirus and Acarnania regions were to be separated from the rest of the Greek territory and the Italian-controlled Kingdom of Albania was to annex territory between the Greek north-western frontier and a line from Florina to Pindus, Arta and Preveza. The Italians intended partly to compensate Greece for its extensive territorial losses, by allowing it to annex the British Crown Colony of Cyprus after the war.
Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Chief of Staff of the Italian military since 1925
On 13 October, Mussolini finalized the decision for war when he informed the Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, to start preparing an attack for 26 October. Badoglio then issued the order for the Italian military to begin preparations for executing the existing war plan, "Contingency Greece", which envisioned the capture of Epirus as far as Arta but left the further pursuit of the campaign open.
On the next day, Badoglio and acting Army Chief of Staff Mario Roatta met with Mussolini, who announced that his objective was the capture of the entire country and that he would contact Bulgaria for a joint operation. Roatta advised that an extension of the invasion beyond Epirus would require an additional ten divisions, which would take three months to arrive and suggested limiting the extent of the Italian demobilization.
Italian invasion of Greece
Both generals urged Mussolini to replace the local commander, Lieutenant-General Sebastiano Visconti Prasca, with someone more senior and more experienced. Mussolini seemingly agreed but also insisted on the attack going ahead at the determined date, provisionally under Prasca's command. Badoglio and Roatta seemed unconvinced that the operation would take place, like similar projects against Greece and Yugoslavia.
Next day, Mussolini called another conference with Badoglio, Roatta, Visconti Prasca, Ciano and the Italian governor of Albania, Francesco Jacomoni. He reiterated his objectives and his determination that the attack take place on 26 October and asked for the opinion of the assembled. Jacomoni agreed that the Albanians were enthusiastic but that the Greeks would fight, likely with British help, while Ciano suggested that the Greek people were apathetic and would not support the "plutocratic" ruling class.
Prasca offered assurances that the operation was as perfectly planned as "humanly possible", promised to finish of the Greek forces in Epirus, which he estimated at 30,000 men and capture the port of Preveza in ten to fifteen days. Prasca regarded the campaign as an opportunity to win fame and achieve the coveted rank of Marshal of Italy by conquering Athens. Prasca was relatively junior in his rank and if he demanded more troops for the Albanian front, it was likely that a more senior officer would be sent to command the operation, earning the accolades and promotions instead.
|Part of the Balkans Campaign of World War II|
Greek newspaper announcing the war
|Commanders and leaders|
| Benito Mussolini(Prime Minister of Italy)|
Sebastiano Visconti Prasca (Commander in Chief to 9 November)
Ubaldo Soddu (C-in-C to mid-December)
Ugo Cavallero (C-in-C from mid-December)
| Ioannis Metaxas(Prime Minister of Greece)|
Alexander Papagos(commander-in-chief of the Hellenic Army)
|87,000 rising to 565,000 men|
163 light tanks
|Fewer than 260,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
13,755 killedGrand total: 154,172
Total combat losses: 89,696
12,368 frostbite cases
64 aircraft (another 24 claimed)
Total combat losses: 58,578
c. 25,000 frostbite cases
Grand total: 90,000
During the discussion only Badoglio voiced objections, pointing out that stopping after seizing Epirus—which he conceded would present little difficulty—would be an error and a force of at least twenty divisions was necessary to conquer the whole country, including Crete. Roatta suggested that the schedule of moving troops to Albania would have to be accelerated and called for two divisions to be sent against Thessaloniki as a diversion. Prasca pointed out the inadequacy of Albanian harbours for the rapid transfer of Italian divisions, the mountainous terrain and the poor state of the Greek transport network but remained confident that Athens could be captured after the fall of Epirus, with "five or six divisions".
The meeting ended with an outline plan, summed up by Mussolini as "offensive in Epirus; observation and pressure on Salonika, and, in a second phase, march on Athens". The staging of incidents at the border to provide a suitable pretext (analogous to the Gleiwitz incident) was agreed for 24 October; Mussolini suggested that the expected advance on Mersa Matruh in Egypt by the 10th Army (Marshal Rodolfo Graziani) be brought forward to preventing the British from aiding Greece.
Over the next couple of days Badoglio failed elicit objections to the attack from the other service chiefs and to achieve its cancellation on technical grounds. Mussolini, enraged by the Marshal's obstructionism, threatened to accept his resignation if offered. Badoglio backed down, managing only to secure a postponement of the attack until 28 October.
The front was roughly 150 kilometres (93 mi) wide in mountain terrain with very few roads. The Pindus mountains divided it into two theatres of operations, Epirus and western Macedonia.The Italian forces in Albania were organised accordingly: the XXV Ciamuria Corps (Lieutenant-General Carlo Rossi (it) ), in the west was charged with the conquest of Epirus, while the XXVI Corizza Corps (Lieutenant-General Gabriele Nasci) in the east, around Korçë, would initially remain passive in the direction of western Macedonia.
On 18 October, Mussolini sent a letter to Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria , inviting him to take part in the coming action against Greece, but he refused citing his country's unpreparedness and its encirclement by hostile neighbours. This was not regarded as a major setback, as the Italian leadership considered that the threat of Bulgarian intervention alone would compel the Greek High Command to commit most of its army in eastern Macedonia and Thrace.
It was not until 24 October that Badoglio realized that not only were the Greeks already mobilizing, but that they were prepared to divert most of their forces to Epirus, leaving only six divisions against Bulgaria. Prasca would still have numerical superiority at the start of the campaign (some 150,000 men against 120,000) but concerns grew over the vulnerability of the left flank. As a result, the 29th Division Piemonte was diverted from the attack in Epirus to bolster XXVI Corps in the Korçë area, while the 19th Infantry Division Venezia was ordered south from its position along the Yugoslav border.
In 1936, General Alberto Pariani had been appointed Chief of Staff of the army and begun a reorganisation of divisions to fight wars of rapid decision, according to thinking that speed, mobility and new technology could revolutionise military operations. In 1937, three-regiment (triangular) divisions began a reorganisation as two-regiment (binary divisions, as part of a ten years plan to reorganise the standing army into 24 binary, 24 triangular, twelve mountain, three motorised and three armoured divisions. Prior to the invasion, Mussolini had let 300,000 troops and 600,000 reservists go home for the harvest.
There were supposed to be 1,750 lorries used in the invasion but only 107 arrived. The possibility that Greek personalities, as well as Greek officials situated in the front area, could be corrupted or not react to an invasion, proved to be mostly internal propaganda used by Italian generals and personalities in favor of a military intervention. The same was true for an alleged revolt of the Albanian minority living in Chameria, located in the Greek territory immediately behind the boundary, which would break out after the beginning of the attack.
On the eve of 28 October 1940, Italy's ambassador in Athens, Emanuele Grazzi, handed an ultimatum from Mussolini to Metaxas. It demanded free passage for his troops to occupy unspecified strategic points inside Greek territory. Greece had been friendly towards Nazi Germany, profiting from mutual trade relations but now Germany's ally, Italy, intended to invade Greece. Metaxas rejected the ultimatum with the words "Alors, c'est la guerre" (French for "then it is war."). In this, he echoed the will of the Greek people to resist, a will that was popularly expressed in one word: "ochi" (Όχι) (Greek for "no"). Within hours, Italy began attacking Greece from Albania.
The outbreak of hostilities was first announced by Athens Radio early in the morning of 28 October, with the two-sentence dispatch of the general staff.